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Full text of "Biological fact and the structure of society. The Herbert Spencer lecture delivered at the examination schools on Wednesday, February 28, 1912"

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' 1891 

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3 1924 030 238 889 




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There are signs that the civilized world is at length 
awakening to the fact that the knowledge needed for 
the right direction of social progress must be gained by 
biological observation and experiment. Such a turn in 
public opinion would, we may be sure, have been viewed 
by Herbert Spencer with exceptional interest and 
approval. The truth, so obvious to the naturalist, that 
man is an animal, subject to the same physical laws of 
development as other animals, is a doctrine he constantly 
expounded, and perhaps his teaching did more than that 
of any other philosopher towards helping men to see 
themselves as they really are, stripped of the sanctity 
with which superstition and ignorance have through all 
ages invested the human species. 

Spencer not only contributed that great service, but 
I suppose that no one ever looked forward with serener 
confidence or a fuller optimism to the consequences 
which follow upon a recognition of these natural facts, 
to the possibility of a further evolution of our species, 
and to the certainty that by his own action the destiny 
of man may be controlled. It is natural therefore that 
in a lecture founded to commemorate his work we should 
examine the possibilities of biological discovery as; 
applied to the constitution and future of human society. 

Many causes have combined to give prominence at 
this moment to the biological aspects of Sociology. 
There exists a general perception on the part of the 
more intelligent that the present condition of the social 


structure in civilized states is one of extreme instability. 
The apprehension that changes of exceptional magnitude 
are impending is widely spread. In addition to these 
indefinite sensations of uneasiness, the minds of obser- 
vant persons are becoming keenly alive to the fact that 
the unexampled changes in the conditions of human 
life, made possible by the applications of science, are 
likely to result in an alteration of the composition of the 
population. Owing to the control which civilized com- 
munities have acquired over the forces of nature the 
average human life has been materially lengthened, and 
we need no evidence beyond that of ordinary experience 
to show that especially have the lives of those who are 
\/ defective in mind or body been prolonged by application 
of these new powers on their behalf. 

A general acquaintance with the idea of Evolution, 
in outline at least, has become universal. We are all 
habituated to the notion that the form of a society, like 
that of an individual, is a consequence of an evolutionary 
process. To that process experimental interference on 
an enormous scale is being applied, and it is inevitable 
that the community at large should be asking, not without 
anxiety, how far the outcome of these interferences with 
what have usually been regarded as natural forces will 
bring good or evil to the societies which attempt them. 
Within the last few years, moreover, mankind has 
suddenly begun to realize what heredity means. The 
deliberate interferences hitherto contemplated by eco- 
nomists have related to the distribution of wealth and 
opportunities of many kinds, the regulation of supply 
and demand, the creation or abolition of divers political 
institutions, and other measures of similar character. 
Though the effects of these devices are commonly 
described as profound, such measures are indirect, and 


to the mind of the naturalist most of them are essentially 
superficial. Every legislative encouragement given to 
one class and every repression of another has an effect 
on the future of the race. Exerted over long periods of 
time, these interferences must indeed influence the com- 
position of a population ; but with knowledge of the full 
meaning of the physiological process of heredity we 
perceive that man has it in his power to operate upon 
his species in a much more drastic way. In Spencer's 
time and long before, this fact was obvious to all who 
reflected on the matter. He himself in many passages 
alludes to these possibilities. In 1873, for example, he 
wrote : * 

'If any one denies that children bear likenesses to 
their progenitors in character and capacity — if he holds 
that men whose parents and grandparents were habitual 
criminals, have tendencies as good as those of men 
whose parents and grandparents were industrious and 
upright, he may consistently hold that it matters not 
from what families in a society the successive generations 
descend. He may think it just as well if the most active, 
and capable, and prudent, and conscientious people die 
without issue ; while many children are left by the reck- 
less and dishonest. But whoever does not espouse so 
insane a proposition must admit that social arrangements 
which retard the multiplication of the mentally-best, and 
facilitate the multiplication of the mentally- worst, must 
be extremely injurious.' 

In the period when these words were written practi- 
cally nothing was known of heredity. Naturalists knew 
that in general offspring resemble their parents more or 
less, and that by selection for an indefinite number of 
generations types could be fixed so as to breed approxi- 
mately true. That there was a vast province of exact 

1 The Study of Sociology, ed. 1908, p. 343. 


and readily ascertainable knowledge, fraught with im- 
measurable practical consequence to mankind, hidden 
behind the word heredity had occurred to scarcely a single 

Many were perfectly aware of the importance of 
heredity. All upholders of evolutionary doctrines, both 
those who preceded Darwin and those who followed 
him, were familiar with the fact that change of type came 
about through the inheritance of modification. In many 
admirable and striking works the late Francis Galton 
had endeavoured to direct attention to the practical 
significance of heredity. He had shown also that the 
descent of characters could be partially expressed in 
a system, which, though erroneous in fundamental con- 
ception, still gives an approximately correct representa- 
tion of several of the phenomena. 

But the discovery of Mendelian analysis, though as 
yet imperfectly developed, opens up a new world of 
physiology. Expressed in the briefest possible way the 
essence of the Mendelian principle is not difficult to 
grasp. It may be conveyed in the statement that 
organisms may be regarded as composed to a great 
extent of separate factors, by virtue of which they pos- 
sess their various characters or attributes. These factors 
are detachable, and may be recombined in various ways. 
It thus becomes possible to institute a factorial analysis 
of an individual. 

How far such analysis can be carried we do not yet 
know, but we have the certainty that it extends far, and 
ample indications that Eve should probably be right in 
supposing that it covers most of the features, whether of 
mind or body, which distinguish the various members 
of a mixed population like that of which we form a part. 
From such a representation we pass to the obvious con- 


elusion that an individual parent is unable to pass on to 
offspring a factor which he or she does not possess. 

Just as various features or characteristics may be due 
to the presence of the corresponding factor, so we have to 
recognize that other attributes appear only in the absence 
of certain factors. Moreover, since those individuals 
only which are possessed of the factors can pass them 
on to their offspring, so the offspring of those that are 
destitute of these elements do not acquire them in sub- 
sequent generations but continue to perpetuate the type 
which exists by reason of the deficiency. You will 
readily understand that in practice the analysis and 
detection of these factors is a difficult matter. The 
difficulty arises especially from the very important fact 
that some of the ingredient-factors have the property of 
inhibiting or masking the effects of other factors, and 
that many features of bodily organization are due to the 
combination and interaction of two or more ingredients, 
which alone might be present without producing any 
perceptible sign of their presence. Thus one flower 
may be white, because it is lacking in the element 
which produces colour; but another may be white 
though it has everything needed to give it colour, 
because it has in addition an element which suppresses 
the pigmentation. Again, colour in some plants is due 
to one factor, but in others it is developed only when 
two independent complementary factors are present, and 
either of these may be present alone in a flower which 
is perfectly white. 

Such rules have been demonstrated in operation for 
an immense diversity of characteristics in both animals 
and plants in great variety! It should be explicitly 
stated, however, that in the case of the ordinary attributes 
of normal men we have as yet unimpeachable evidence 


of the manifestation of this system of descent for one set 
of characters only, namely the colour of the eyes. 

There is nevertheless no reasonable doubt that the 
extension to the normal attributes of man is one which 
we are well entitled to make. For with the doubtful 
exception of certain features of quantity, size, and num- 
ber, no characters of animals and plants which have been 
made subject to adequate experimental tests have hitherto 
proved incapable of being represented as governed by 
such a system. Moreover, if the evidence as to normal 
characteristics of man is defective — which in view of the 
extreme difficulty of applying accurate research to nor- 
mal humanity is scarcely surprising — there is in respect 
of numerous human abnormalities abundant evidence 
that a factorial system of descent is followed. 

To appreciate the full significance of these things one 
must have practical experience of breeding. I wish it 
were in my power to bring to the minds of such an 
audience as this some part of the emotion which the 
contemplation of this display of order can excite. 
Imagine a greenhouse stage full of a miscellaneous col- 
lection of varieties of some plant, such as the Chinese 
Primula, with all theirvaried shapes of leaves and flowers. 
Their colours also seem at first sight to range through 
an endless series of tints of magenta, crimson, pink, and 
blue. By appropriate treatment we have it in our power 
to determine that in three generations at the most the 
offspring of these plants, the generation in fact 'which 
will then replace them and represent them, shall be 
entirely of one type only, or of two types, or three types 
in any required proportion. \By choosing which 
parents shall leave offspring we can decide how the 
species shall be represented on our stages with a certaintyV 
almost as great as if the selection were made from plants 


already grown. And similarly for fowls and many other 
forms of life. Write Man for Primula or fowl, and the 
stage of the world for that of the greenhouse, and I believe 
that with a few generations of experimental br eeding 
we should acquire the power similarly to determine how 
the varieties of men should be represented in the 
generations that succeed. 

At a cattle-show I look at the splendid animals in their 
pens, ranged breed by breed, and I look at the farmers 
and the sight-seers passing by them in procession. They 
too are of manifold types, men from all parts of the 
country, often showing the characteristics of their race 
plain and easy to recognize — big men, little men, men 
who fill out or ' mature ' early, as they say in the meat- 
market — spare men, that the farmers would call ' bad 
doers ', tame men, vicious men, sharp and dull, dark and 
fair — shepherds, stock-men, grooms, butchers, and sales- 
men. ^Could they too be arranged breed by breed in 
pens ?J A few most certainly could. (We might make a 
pen of shepherds and we should not often put in a groom 
by mistake.) Why could not all be sorted into breeds ? 
The answer is obvious : because they are the offspring 
of matings made almost at random — and for no more 
recondite reason. 

Many are disposed to imagine that the conditions of 
life play a great part in producing the diversity of such 
a mixed assemblage, but the more we learn of biological 
fact the less do we find much evidential ground for that 
opinion. The conditions of life provide opportunity for ^ 
the development of characters, but they cannot increase 
the original endowment. If the right opportunity be. 
withheld the characteristic does not appear. If the 
stout man had been starved from his birth, obviously his 
disposition to stoutness might have remained unknown ; 



but the spare man, like the razor-back pigs of the Southern 
States, will not fatten though he take five meals a day. 
And so for qualities that may be regarded as more subtle. 
A muscat grape will produce its aromatic flavour if it 
have sun and a suitable soil, — the pretentious Gros 
Colmar, with its fruits half as large again, is not worth 
eating, though it be fostered with all the gardener's skill. 
These qualities are, as we say, genetic, given to the 
creature at its birth, brought into it on fertilization by 
one, or by the other, or by both of the cells which united 
to produce it. That the conclusions to which experi- 
mental studies of animals and plants have led us apply 
also on the whole to the descent of human faculty can 
be doubted by no one who has studied the evidence. 

If any one is not already convinced he should refer 
to the accumulated proofs which Galton so successfully 
collected, especially in Heredit ary Genius. Let him study 
any biographical records of human achievement or con- 
duct — such as a dictionary of painters or of musicians — 
and observe the perpetual recurrence of the same names 
in groups of two, three, or more ; or the geographical 
distribution of illegitimacy, showing as it does the main- 
tenance of ' local custom ' and morals under divers 
conditions of occupation, soil, and climate ; or the pedi- 
grees collected in medical literature showing the descent 
of disease ; or if he look no further than the(distribution 
of qualities among the families known to himself he 
will be forced to the admission that, though the circum- 
stances among which a man is born or thrust have some 
influence in the development and direction of his powers] 
yet the total contribution which circumstance makes 
to achievement is of that subordinate kind which is 
adequately described by the word ' opportunity '. 

Men do not gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles ; 


and what is so clear for the budding branches of the 
plant would be no less obviously true of the branching 
generations of our species, were it not for the fact that 
we each of us come from the union of two cells derived 
from two parents. The fact that we arise by this sexual 
process throws, however, but a thin veil of obscurity over 
the laws of descent, and it is interesting to notice that 
if only human or any other pedigree-tables had been 
arranged to be read downwards instead of upwards, the 
essential fact of Mendelian segregation must have been 
long ago discovered in regard to many characteristics. 
Genealogists have been accustomed to make a table of 
descent as a fan, with its apex in the individual whose 
origin they wish to display and its base widening as far 
as possible into the ancestry, the parental stock of each 
ancestor being represented by a pair. But to show how 
a character really descends we require the table con- 
structed with its apex in one original individual who 
possessed the character, and from that apex to exhibit 
the devolution of that character among the diverging 
branches of his posterity. As the usual purpose of the 
genealogist has been to contribute either to political 
history or to family pride, rather than to natural know- 
ledge, his mind has consequently been set on a demon- 
stration rather of the origin and antiquity of his hero's 
qualities than of their distribution or absence among the 

I do not propose on this occasion to adduce facts 
in support of the general proposition that human genetic 
physiology follows in the main systems similar to those 
discovered in animals, but rather, assuming that this 
truth is admitted, to examine some phenomena of social 
physiology as they appear in the light of this know- 


May I clear myself at once of a possible misunder- 
standing? You will think, perhaps, that I am about 
to advocate interference by the State, or by public 
opinion, with the ordinary practices and habits of our 
society. There may be some who think that the English 
would be happier if their marriages were arranged at 
Westminster instead of, as hitherto, in Heaven. I am 
not of that opinion, nor can I suppose that the constructive 
proposals even of the less-advanced Eugenists would be 
seriously supported by any one who realized how slender 
is our present knowledge of the details of the genetic 
processes in their application to man. Before science 
can claim to have any positive guidance to offer, numbers 
of untouched problems must be solved. We need first 
some outline of an analysis of human characters, to know 
which are due to the presence of positive factors and 
which are due to their absence; how and in respect 
of what qualities the still mysterious phenomenon of sex 
causes departures from the simpler rules of descent, 
and many other data which will occur readily enough 
to those who are familiar with these inquiries. It is 
almost certain, for instance, that some qualities are trans- 
mitted differently according as they are possessed by the 
mother or by the father, and it is by no means improbable 
that various forms of conspicuous talent are among their 
number. It should be borne in mind that we do not yet 
know even which females among mankind correspond to 
which males. In man sexual differentiation is generally 
strongly marked. The case is almost like that of poultry. 
If a breeder ignorant of the breeds of poultry were asked 
to sort a miscellaneous assemblage of cocks and hens 
into pairs according to breed, he would often be quite at 
a loss to know what a given male type looked like when 
represented in a hen, and conversely. He would thus 


make many mistakes even when dealing with pure 
breeds; and in man, as individuals pure-bred in any 
respect are very rare, the operation would be far more 
difficult. For these and other reasons I am entirely 
opposed to the views of those who would subsidize the 
families of parents passed as unexceptionable. Galton, 
I know, contemplated some such possibility ; but if we 
picture to ourselves the kind of persons who would 
infallibly be chosen as examples of ' civic worth ' — the 
term lately used to denote their virtues^the-prospect is 
not very attractive. We need not for the present fear 
any scarcity of that class, and I think we may be content 
to postpone schemes for their multiplication. 

As regards practical interference there is neverthe- 
less one perfectly clear line of action which we may be 
agreed to take — the segFegati6rro"f The hopelessly unfit. 
I need not argue, this point. When it is' realized that 
two parents, both of gravely defective or feeble mind, in 
the usual acceptance of that term, do not have any 
normal children at all, save perhaps in some very rare 
cases, and that the offspring of even one such parent 
mated to a normal generally contain a proportion of 
defectives, 1 no one can doubt that the right and most 
humane policy is to restrain them from breeding, and 
I suppose the principle of the Act now before Parlia- 
ment for the institution of such a policy will have general 
approval. Under our present system the State exerts 

1 From such pedigrees as I have seen I should nevertheless 
hesitate to describe feeble-mindedness as a simple Mendelian 
recessive. It is possibly due to an absence of some factor or 
factors ; but there is strong evidence that the usual result of a 
mating between normal and feeble-minded parents is a proportion 
of feeble-minded children, and it is difficult to suppose that most 
ostensibly normal persons are heterozygous in this respect. See 
especially H. H. Goddard, Amer. Breeder's Magazine, 1910, i. 172. 


all the powers which science has developed for the 
preservation of such persons from their birth, most 
of whom would otherwise perish early. Brought to 
maturity their destiny is not difficult to imagine. How- 
ever ignorant we may be as to the several ingredients 
which are required to compose a stable society, or of 
the proportions in which they are severally desirable, 
we are safe in preventing these^er^atures from repro- 
ducing themselves. Some of the more advanced of the 
American States are already going further, and even 
such a representative of older ideas as the State of New 
Jersey is, I am informed, introducing the practice of 
sterilizing criminals of special classes. That appears to 
me the very utmost length to which it is safe to extend 
legislative interference of this kind, until social physio- 
logy has been much more fully explored. 

Beyond that if there is authority to go, it is not 
drawn from genetic science. If a person who is born 
with cataract, or develops cataract very early in child- 
hood, has children, it is almost certain that half those 
children will inherit the cataract, with varying degrees 
of blindness. The prospect is more or less the same 
for several other defects. Nevertheless, though from 
these causes many remain grievous burdens to their 
families, or to the public funds, and though they could 
probably be eliminated after a few generations without 
difficulty by legislative interference, that would be a very 
dangerous course. They are not necessarily useless 
persons, nor are their own lives necessarily miserable. 
There are many healthy and active types which are 
a far greater nuisance to their neighbours and reproduce 
themselves with equal exactitude. Possibly, on a ballot, 
few of us would be encouraged to perpetuate our like- 
nesses! We all have grave defects, not least those 


who contribute much to the happiness of the world. 
The monogamous pigeons sitting on the barn roof 
perhaps are scandalized at the polygamy of the fowls in 
the yard. Such decadence, they hold, is disgusting and 
should be stopped. The fowls no doubt would reply 
that they may be polygamous and even polyandrous, 
but as for decadence, they at least don't limit their 
families to two. Such degeneracy is race-suicide and 
they think it should be punished. And so the debate 
might continue. 

Seriously, let us remember that a polymorphic and mon- 
grel population like ours descends from many tributary 
streams. We are made of fragments of divers races, all 
in their degree contributing their special aptitudes, their 
special deficiencies, their particular virtues and vices, and 
their multifarious notions otright- and wrong. Many of 
us have, for instance, the monogamous instinct as strong 
as pigeons, and many of both sexes have it no more 
than fowls. Why should some be ambitious to make 
all think or act alike ? It is much better that we should 
be of many sorts, saints, nondescripts, and sinners. Pos- 
terity is likely to discover that to eliminate sinners there 
is only one way — that which St. Paul pointed to us 
when he wrote that ' where no law is, there is no trans- 
gression'. Science knows nothing of sin save by its 
evil consequence. In all reverence she inverts the 
ancient saying and proclaims that the sting of Sin is 
Death. It is not the tyrannical and capricious interfer- 
ence of a half-informed majority which can safely mould 
or purify a population, but rather that simplification 
of instinct for which we ever hope, which fuller know- 
ledge alone can make possible. As science strengthens 
our hold on nature, more and more will man be able 
to annul the evil consequence of sin. Little by little 


the law will lapse into oblivion, and sins which it created 
will be sins no more. 

The great and noble work which genetic science can 
do for humanity at the present time is to bring men to 
take more true, more simple, and, if so inexact a word 
can be used intelligibly, more natural views of them- 
selves and of each other. With fuller knowledge of the 
physiology of races, and of the intimate relation between 
the physiological composition of the individual and his 
vital possibilities, all the problems of social organization 
show new aspects, and the vision is cleared of the 
fancies with which subjective ingenuity has overlaid the 
facts. How hard it is to realize the polymorphism of 
man ! Think of the varieties which the word denotes, 
merely in its application to one small society such as 
ours, and of the natural, genetic distinctions which 
differentiate us into types and strains— acrobats, actors, 
artists, clergy, farmers, labourers, lawyers, mechanics, 
musicians, poets, sailors, men of science, servants, 
soldiers, and tradesmen. Think of the diversity of 
their experience of life. How few of these could have 
changed parts with each other. Many of these types 
are, even in present conditions, almost differentiated into 
distinct strains. In no wild species, not even among 
the ants, so often quoted, do we find any polymorphism 
approaching to this. I never cease to marvel that the 
more divergent castes of civilized humanity are capable 
of interbreeding and of producing fertile offspring from 
their crosses. Nothing but this paradoxical fact prevents 
us from regarding many classes even of Englishmen as 
distinct species in the full sense of the term. In a 
strident passage the acute Cobbett long ago expanded 
this conclusion : 


' I am quite satisfied, that there are as many sorts of 
men as there are of dogs. ... It cannot be education 
alone that makes the amazing difference we see. 
Besides, we see men of the very same rank and riclies 
and education differing as widely as the pointer does 
from the pug. The name, man, is common to all the 
sorts, and hence arises very great mischief. What con- 
fusion must there be in rural affairs, if there were no 
names whereby to distinguish hounds, greyhounds, 
pointers, spaniels, terriers, and sheep-dogs from each 
other! And what pretty work, if, without regard to the 
sorts of dogs, men were to attempt to employ them ! Yet 
this is done in the case of men ! A man is always 
a man ; and without the least regard as to the sort, they 
are promiscuously placed in all kinds of situations. . . . 
What would be said of the 'Squire who should take 
a fox-hound out to find partridges for him to shoot at ? 
Yet would this be more absurd than to set a man to 
law-making who was manifestly formed for the express 
purpose of sweeping the streets or digging out sewers?' 1 

The problem which confronts the political philosopher 
is to find a system by which these differentiated elements 
may combine together to form a co-ordinated community, 
while each el ement remains substan tially contented with 
its lot. To discuss this mighty problem in itTfull scope 
I have neither qualification nor desire. All that I can 
venture to contribute are some reflections which must 
come often to the minds of naturalists who contemplate 
the facts. They may be familiar enough to those who 
engage in the study of human affairs, but I have noticed 
that among those natural divisions between the sorts of 
men to which I just referred there are few more marked 
than that which usually separates students of natural 
knowledge from those who care nothing for it; and 
with rare exception you will find that publicists of the 
various denominations are almost always in this latter 

1 W. Cobbett, Rural Rides, ed. 1853, p. 291. 


group. 1 Legislators, nevertheless, whether they know it 
or not, are engaged in a practical experiment with living 
things of a peculiarly intricate kind. 

Many features of social phenomena evidently wear to 
the legislator aspects entirely different from those which 
they present to us. Lately, for example, the nation has 
been debating the virtual abolition of the hereditary 
Chamber— obviously a problem to the solution of which 
biological data are essential. I did not see in the public 
utterance of any statesman an allusion even to this aspect 
of the matter. Yet such data are neither very difficult 
to collect nor to interpret. 

Let us think of the criminal law and consider how 
a system can satisfy -the legislator which to the naturalist 
is stupid and infamously cruel. Just now I spoke of the 
polymorphism of mankind. No one trained in biology 
is ignorant of that phenomenon. True we realize it 
now as we never did before the study of heredity had 
developed, and I doubt not that before many years 
are past genetic research will have successfully repre- 
sented the varying compositions of many at least of 
the more aberrant types of men by irrefutable analysis. 
If we have not yet these exact expressions, none of us 
doubt they can be found. Yet ' in the sight of the law', 
as the phrase goes, all men are equal ! Are they equal 

1 Mr. Canning did not learn till late in life that tadpoles turn into 
frogs, and thought that a schoolboy who gave him that information 
was fooling him. Mr. Gladstone believed that twenty-eight was 
the normal total for the human teeth. Portentous ignorance of 
this kind is common among historians and legislators. In itself 
perhaps a trifle, it is a symptom of detachment from the actual 
world so complete as to disqualify a man from safely exercising 
high functions of statesmanship, demanding, as they must, a dis- 
cernment which can only come from wide knowledge of natural 


in the sight of any one less blind than Justice ? We do / 
not find them equal in the out-patient room, in the school, / 
at the recruiting depot — why in the court of law? If! 
a lawyer cares to know how criminal procedure looks to ' 
biologists, let him read the sentence pronounced in 1 
Erewhon 1 by the judge on the prisoner convicted 'of 
the great crime of labouring under pulmonary consump- 
tion '. After expressing the pain he felt at having to 
pass a severe sentence on one who was yet young, and 
had otherwise excellent prospects, he continued : 

'You were convicted of aggravated bronchitis last 
year : and I find that though you are now only twenty- 
three years old, you have been imprisoned on no less 
than fourteen occasions for illnesses of a more or less 
hateful character ; in fact, it is not too much to say that 
you have spent the greater part of your life in jail. It is 
all very well of you to say that you came of unhealthy 
parents, and had a severe accident in your childhood 
which permanently undermined your constitution ; ex- 
cuses such as these are the ordinary refuge of the 
criminal ; but they cannot for one moment be listened to 
by the ear of justice. I am not here to enter upon 
curious metaphysical questions as to the origin of this 
or that — questions to which there would be no end were 
their introduction once tolerated, and which would result 
in throwing the only guilt on the tissues of the primordial 
cell, or on the elementary gases. ... I do not hesitate 
therefore to sentence you to imprisonment, with hard 
labour, for the rest of your miserable existence.' 

A humane man— a lawyer too— after witnessing such 
a scene, not in Erewhon but in London, said once to me 
that he did think the judge might have noticed that 
the prisoner's head was a different shape from anybody 
else's in the court. The sickening cruelty of the courts 
is, I am happy to think, abating somewhat, but there 
will be no radical improvement until the functions of the 

1 Erewhon, by Samuel Butler, 1872, p. 96. 


administrator of criminal justice are recognized as in the 
main medical. The criminal may be and often is 
hopeless; but if his case be one for treatment, let us 
treat it with the only remedies capable of doing any 
good. Give him occupation, distraction, change of 
thoughts, if it be possible. These, and not solitary con- 
finement, are the treatment we should prescribe for 
ourselves when we fear temptation. 

Take the two converse aspects of the question of 
population. Infant mortality is conventionally regarded 
by both statesmen and philanthropists as deplorable, 
without further inquiry. 1 Do they consider from what 
prospect most of these infants are delivered? Would 
it be better that they should be preserved to fill the 
workhouse infirmaries ? 

Other public men profess indignation against the 
practice, almost universal among the more intelligent 
and more provident classes in civilized countries, of , 
limiting their families to two or three children. Have/ 
these patriots estimated what the pressure upon the/ 

1 Such an infatuation does this idea become even with statistical 
experts, that I find so careful a writer as Dr. Newsholme saying 
without qualification ' that each member of the population, when 
the balance between expense of subsistence and wages earned 
through life is worked out, represents enormous wealth'. This 
passage is introduced with the words ' It has been already pointed 
out ' ; but even in the place where the subject is more fully treated 
and Farr's calculations are given, the only reservation overtly 
made is for the aged. Dr. Newsholme of course means that on an 
average of the population there is a balance of profit, and on an 
average of wage- earners a high profit, not that 'each member of 
the population . . . represents enormous wealth '. Yet that section 
of the population whose value is negative should be constantly and 
explicitly mentioned ; for there is nothing to show that a reduction 
in total population is incompatible with an equal or even greater 
profit on the whole. (See Newsholme, A., Elements of Vital 
Statistics, 1889, pp. 69 and 14.) 


resources of the country would be if we mostly had six 
to ten children, as our parents had? The naturalist/ 
knows that a great part of the population of this country/ 
ought not to exist at all under present conditions of 
distribution. To add greatly to the number even of 
the able and thrifty will not diminish the proportion of 
the unfit or lighten the strain. What would be thought 
of a breeder who tried to keep all his stock ? He wants 
no more than he can do well; otherwise his stock 
and he too will soon be ruined. The distinction which 
Malthus drew between 'a redundant population and 
one actually great ' is sound, biologically as well as in 
economics. It is not the maximum number but the 
optimum number, having regard to the means of dis- 
tribution, that it should be the endeavour of social 
organization to secure. To spread a layer of human 
protoplasm of the greatest possible thickness over the 
earth — the implied ambition of many publicists — in the 
light of natural knowledge is seen to be reckless folly. 
We need not more of the fit, but fewer of the unfit. 
A high death-rate is often associated with a high birth- 
rate, but happily a low birth-rate and a low death-rate 
are quite compatible with each other. 

In the gloom which shrouds the future of civilized 
communities there is one fact which gives encouragement 
and hope, the decline in the birth-rate, associated as it 
now is with a decline in the death-rate also. 

To most writers on these questions continual increase 
of the population of a country is regarded as the normal 
condition of things. This proposition is explicitly stated, 
for example by Rumelin, 1 in one of the leading text- 

1 '. . . so erscheint es nicht nur als empirische Tatsache sondern 
als die Ordnung der Natur, dass die Geburten in jeder mensch- 
lichen Gesellschaft einen Ueberschuss uber die Todesfelle ergeben, 


books. The naturalist knows, however, that such a 
phenomenon can be but ephemeral. He is accustomed to 
take longer views of the life of a species. In nature the 
numbers of a species can only increase when it is taking 
up fresh means of subsistence, in consequence of varia- 
tion or otherwise. Parasites increase when they invade 
a new host. The rabbits increased when they invaded 
Australia, as did the sparrows in America. The popu- 
lation of this country increased very slowly till the 
latter half of the eighteenth century, when it began to 
rise sharply, but it was in the first third of the nineteenth 
century that the rate of increase became alarming, 
culminating in the misery of the forties. 1 

No one can doubt that the new means of subsistence 
which made this rise in population possible was the 
energy latent in the coal-fields. Nor have we to look 
far for the variation which enabled man to begin thus 
to devour the capital of the earth ; and I suppose the 
coincidence of the first quick rise in population with the 
activities of that remarkable mutation, James Watt, needs 

somit die stetige Zunahme einer Bevolkerung als die Normale, der 
Stillstand oder Riickgang stets als etwas Naturwidriges, als 
eine krankhafte, durch ausserordentliche Umstande begrundete 
Storung zu gelten hat.' Rumelin, in Schbnberg's Handb. Polit. 
Oekon., 1890, i. 772. 

1 Sir A. Alison, The Principles of Population, 1840, i. 520 : ' It is 
in the midst of this prodigious manufacturing population that the 
human race advances with alarming rapidity, and shoals of human 
beings are ushered into the world without any adequate provision 
existing for their comfortable maintenance. Such is the improvi- 
dence, the recklessness, and the profligacy which characterize the 
great bulk of the urban population in all the great cities of the 
empire, that the rate of increase bears no proportion to the per- 
manent demand for labour : but mankind go on multiplying, as in 
the Irish hovels, with hardly any other limit than that arising from 
the physical inability in the one sex to procreate, and in the other 
to bear children.' 


no special emphasis of interpretation. Sir William 
Ramsay estimates that the coal of this country will be 
exhausted in 175 years, and in his opinion it is in the 
highest degree improbable that any comparable source 
of energy will become available. 1 He limited his remarks 
to this country ; but though there is no reliable means of 
estimating the coal in the earth as a whole, it is probable 
that within some period which is short as biology counts 
time, our species will be once more limited to the energy- 
income of the earth. We are in fact passing through 
a phase which is quite exceptional in the history of 
a species — exceptionally favourable if you will — and it is 
in a decline in the birth-rate that the most promising 
omen exists for the happiness of future generations. y 

Professor Marshall, discussing not the consequences 
of the exhaustion of coal, but another phase of the 
population question, remarks : ' It remains true that 
unless the checks on the growth of population in force 
at the end of the nineteenth century are on the whole 
increased (they are certain to change their form in places 
that are as yet imperfectly civilized) it will be impossible 
for the habjts^fjjjmfojrtjprevailing in Western Europe 
to spread themselves over the whole world and maintain 
themselves for many hundred years.' In a note to this 
passage he estimates that if the present rate of increase 
of human population continue till the year 2400 'the 
population will then be 1,000 for every mile of fairly fertile 
land : and so far as we can foresee now, the diet of 
such a population must needs be in the main vegetarian \* 

And now regarding the central problem of social 

1 Presidential Address to British Association, Portsmouth, 191 1. 
This estimate followed that of the Coal Commission in excluding 
coal below 4,000 feet, which, if included, would prolong the period 
for perhaps a century. 

2 Alfred Marshall, Principles of Economics, third ed., 1895, p. 259. 


structure, the conditions of stability in the relations of 
the human classes to each other and to the State, has 
biological science any counsel of value to give ? Is there 
any observation that naturalists have made, knowledge 
acquired, or principles perceived in their study of the 
manifold forms of life, which in this period of grave 
anxiety they dare to offer as a contribution to political 
philosophy ? Let us examine the physiological aspects 
of that problem. Upon the data there is now an agree- 
ment almost universal.(2Society consists of differentiated 
elements, unlike in tastes, faculties, sex, health, and 
ability of every kind. Some are strong, most are weak.J 
If this complexity of civilization — the indispensable con- 
dition of evolutionary progress — is to continue, such 
differentiation, or some state approaching it, must be 
preserved. How then, in an age when knowledge is 
cheap and all know how the rest live, is any general 
content to be secured ? Let us turn to the familiar 
comparison in which the community is likened to an 
organism with differentiated parts. The comparison is 
as oldas Menenius Agrippa, or at least as Plutarch. 
It was one, too, which Herbert Spencer especially de- 
lighted to develop. Note next that to the biologist this 
presentation of the phenomenon is not a mere analogy 
but often a description of fact. The comparative anato- 
mist cannot always draw a clear distinction between a 
compound organism with differentiated parts and ar 
social organism with differentiated members. 

I lay stress on this aspect of the social problem be- 
cause I have seen several times of late the claim put 
forward that the teaching of biological science sanctions 
a system of freest competition for the means of subsis- 
\ tence between individuals, under which the fittest will 
survive and the less fit tend to extinction. That may 


conceivably be a true inference applicable to forms 
which, like thrushes, live independent lives, but so 
soon as social organization begins, the competition is 
between societies and not between individuals. Just as | 
the body needs its humbler organs, so a community 
needs its lower grades, and just as the body decays if 
even the humblest organs starve, so it is necessary for 
society adequately to ensure the maintenance of all its 
constituent members so long as they are contributing to 
its support. The simple hydroids, such as Tubularia, 
live alone, and no doubt compete freely against each 
other ; but hydroids which remain united as compound 
forms have to let the food circulate among those de- 
graded components which never even develop mouths, 
and all their lives function as tentacles. A body all 
muscle would be as helpless as a nation of Sandows ; 
nor would a nation of Newtons live much longer than 
a brain removed from the skull. 

From these considerations we may draw a conclusion 
that some elements of the doctrines vaguely described 
as socialism are consistent with, and indeed are essential 
to, stability. Society would do well to restrain competi- 
tion between its parts so far as to ensure proper food 
and leisure for the lower grades of producers. How that 
restraint is to be effected is a question for the practical 
economist. Some such measures of restraint we have 
already enacted : on the whole with good results. 
Spencer, as every one knows, protested with vehemence 
against this legislation, but I have never been able to 
comprehend the biological grounds on which he based 
his protest. For if society is in reality an organism, 
society must apply restraints on the undue growth of its 
parts analogous to that co-ordinating mechanism which 
controls the growth of organs in the body. 


Apart also from actual restraint by civil authority, there 
is happily hope of some effective restraint by change in 
public feeling. 

Formerly, cruelty to domesticated animals was de- 
fended on the principle that 'a man may do what he 
likes with his own'. Civilized humanity no longer 
recognizes that defence ; and slowly, even in our deal- 
ings with the weaker members of our own species, that 
change in public feeling has begun to act in restraint of 

Motive for individual exertion must nevertheless be 
preserved. It could be dispensed with only in a com- 
munity in which the component members were in com- 
plete co-ordination, as the organs of the healthy body are. 
The only instinct in our race which is sufficiently 
universal to supply this motive is the desire to accumu- 
late property, generally as a provision for offspring. 
Other instincts, such as emulation, the altruistic emotions, 
or the mere love of activity, may all be strongly developed 
in some, but they are permanent in very few individuals. 
They are apt to weaken after adolescence, and to dis- 
appear as middle age supervenes. But for the institution 
of property the fibre of the whole community, as at pre- 
sent physiologically constituted, would slacken, and decay 
must immediately begin. Yet, admitting the principle 
that if life held no prizes no one would compete, might 
we not prohibit prizes of such magnitude as to jeopar- 
dize the stability of the community ? To fix an upper 
limit on accumulation would not greatly discourage 
effort, for people will play hard, though the stakes be 

Socialism is a state that Nature knows well and has 
sometimes approved. Yet consider how this approval 
has been won, Hive bees, for example, are socialists : 


the individual worker amasses no property for herself. 
They defend their hive. Every individual bee that 
stings you dies in a few hours. But the success of this 
socialism is founded in the instinctive, almost reflex, 
devotion of the bees. 

Among us we have individuals who develop such feel- 
ings for a few years in early youth, and lose them later. 
A few possess these instincts all their lives. They 
sacrifice themselves, and but too often others also in 
their course. Such casual devotion is no base on which 
to form a social system. All permanent and stable 
change of institutions is founded in the physiological 
variation of instinct. In mankind we know a mysterious 
variation which we call change in fashion or in public 
opinion. It is to such a variation that constructive 
socialism must look for its foundation. This is but a 
slender hope; for that 'public opinion' must take the 
form of an instinctive, mystic devotion to society, not 
merely a passion to enjoy the fruits of other men's 
labour. Of socialistic public opinion in that fuller sense 
we see few signs. 

Observe, too, how even the bees behave under sore 
temptation. Those who have witnessed the phenome- 
non of ' robbing ' are not likely to forget the experience. 
If in August or September, when the honey-flow is 
failing, the bee-keeper drops a comb near his apiary, he 
knows what to expect. The bees find this honey unde- 
fended, easy to seize. They become instantly demoral- 
ized. They fight for it at random, stinging and tearing 
each other to pieces. They charge promiscuously into 
their neighbours' hives and indescribable pandemonium 
begins. After such a scene the ground is littered with 
dead bees in hundreds, and in the bottom of a hive 
I have seen a layer of bodies an inch or more thick. 


Such is the instability of instinct even in the great 
prototype of socialism, and can we hope that the sight 
of undefended property would not similarly, in time of 
scarcity, upset the stability of a socialist State ? 

But there is still another side to the problem. If 
nature gives some clear guidance as to the distribution 
of the means of life, her teaching is even clearer as to 
the distribution of political power. Socialistic she may 
sometimes be, but democratic she is not. Turn once 
more to the physiological facts. 'All men are equal', 
say certain philosophers. ' That is not true ', replies 
the naturalist. ' Proceed, then, as if it were ', urges the 
statesman, and upon that course we have started. 
Founded in natural falsehood, the principle of equal 
rights is at length bearing fruits inevitable, though long 
deferred. The gift of equal power did not at first disturb 
the stability of society. Even the able seldom receive a 
new idea after they are grown up ; for the foolish mass 
that process is then impossible. 1 A generation passes 

1 Herbert Spencer, in many of his strictures on the failure of 
legislation to achieve its avowed object, makes far too little allow- 
ance for the long latent period which often elapses before results 
appear. Commenting on the fact that laws rarely produce as much 
direct effect as was expected, and always produce indirect effects 
(which is all perfectly true), he proceeds to the following illustra- 
tion, which at the present date reads somewhat naively: 'It is 
so even with fundamental changes : witness the two we have seen 
in the constitution of our House of Commons. Both advocates 
and opponents of the first Reform Bill anticipated that the middle 
classes would select as representatives many of their own body. 
But both were wrong. The class-quality of the House of Commons 
remained very much what it was before. While, however, the 
immediate and special result looked for did not appear, there were 
vaster remote and general results, foreseen by no one. So, too, with 
the recent change. We had eloquently-uttered warnings that 
delegates from the working-classes would swamp the House of 
Commons ; and nearly every one expected that, at any rate, a sprink- 


and their children, who learnt of it when young, become 
aware of the new power, with the consequences we are 
about to witness. 

Of abstract rights, biology knows little: of equal 
rights, nothing. Philosophers have conceived men born 
with rights as they are with livers or with spleens. 
Perhaps they are ; but since all those birthrights which 
can be expressed in terms of health or powers of mind 
or body are unequal, we find it difficult to suppose that 
there is some other kind of rights which we possess 
equally. Some would reply that equal opportunity is the 
right of all. But what use is equal opportunity to those 
who cannot use the opportunity equally ? Either we 
must waste our strength in creating opportunities for 
those who cannot profit by them, or by aiming at the 
lower grades of mankind we deny to the rest the only 
opportunities which will enable them to develop. 

All these familiar ideas will acquire new meaning in 

ling of working-class members would be chosen. Again all were 
wrong.' The Study of Sociology, ed. 1908, p. 270. 

So again he speaks with great contempt of the legislative efforts 
to suppress diseases among cattle, which (partly no doubt by the 
development of greater physiological knowledge) have now been 
very effective in most cases, and completely successful in many. 
In 1873 he wrote (The Study of Sociology, p. 164) : ' Since 1848 there, 
have been seven Acts of Parliament bearing the general titles of 
Contagious Diseases (Animals) Acts. Measures to " stamp out ", as 
the phrase goes, this or that disease have been called for as im- 
perative. Measures have been passed, and then, expectation not 
having been fulfilled, amended measures have been passed, and 
then re-amended measures ; so that of late no session has gone by 
without a bill to cure evils which previous bills tried to cure, but 
did not. Notwithstanding the keen interest felt by the ruling classes 
in the success of these measures, they have succeeded so ill, that 
the " foot-and-mouth disease " has not been " stamped out ", has 
not even been kept in check, but during the past year has spread 
alarmingly in various parts of the kingdom.' 

d 3 


the light of the new knowledge of the definite composi- 
tion of individuals ; and it would be well, perhaps, if 
those who are now contemplating a great extension of 
equal political power to still lower grades of our popula- 
tion would consider how such a proposal reads when 
translated into physiological terms. 

The political reformer claims to raise the standard of 
a population by thus providing opportunity in amelio- 
rating the conditions of life, and it is worth noting the 
sense in which his claim is physiologically justified. 
The gardener by p'jdcking out his seedlings gives them 
a chance of developing. Left crowded in the seed-pan, 
none, or very few, will become decent plants. The few 
successful, if there are any, may owe their success to 
their special qualities, but more often than not it is 
determined by mere accident of position near the tally, 
or against the edge of the pan, where they get most 
water or light. The botanist knows too that wild plants 
growing in the competition of a turf or amongst brush- 
wood are usually half-starved. Set out, clear of their 
kind, or of weeds, many of them can grow to twice the 
size. So with the crowded masses of humanity. They 
may, so to speak, be ' potted on '. Given hygienic 
conditions and better opportunities, they may develop 
into decent specimens, but they will not turn into better 
kinds. In the new countries the consequences of this 
process of planting out can be seen on a very large 
scale. The emigrants prosper. They are well fed. 
Except in a few large cities slums do not exist. All can 
develop ; and if we do not expect what the gardener 
calls ' important novelties ' the result is admirable. 

It is upon mutational novelties, definite favourable 
variations, that all progress in civilization and in the 
control of natural forces must depend. How will they 


fare in a socialistic community ? What stimulus is left 
to tempt them to exert their powers? In the born 
discoverer the instinct to find out natural truth is a 
strong passion, and those who have that feeling will 
gratify it, just as the artist or the poet works when 
rejected by the market ; but those who invent applica- 
tions of discoveries are generally thinking of patent- 
rights, and if none are to be had, they may take life more 
easily. Is it not certain that all the forces of the community 
will be invoked against men of extra power ? They will 
be treated as a disturbing nuisance. The progress of 
modification of a race composed of independent indivi- 
duals can proceed by variation of individuals, but in a 
community organized on the principle of equality — if it 
can be imagined — an individual variation of any magni- 
tude will be either without result or must produce 
immediate disorganization and disruption. 

The ideals therefore of socialism and of democracy 
are incompatible with each other, and the incompati- 
bility will appear when the period of destruction is over. 
It is strange that the two words are so commonly asso- 
ciated. ' Social democracy ' denotes not one ideal but 
two. In order that the socialist community should 
succeed it must have but one mind, as the bees apparently 
have, not the uncoordinated resultant of all individual 
minds, which is the ideal of democracy. Until these 
two coincide, not occasionally only but in some perma- 
nent fashion, destruction may proceed but construction 
cannot begin. 

The essential difference between the ideals of demo- 
cracy and those which biological observation teaches 
us to be sound, is this: democracy regards class dis- 
tinction as evil; we perceive it to be essential. It is 
the heterogeneity of modern man which has given him 


his control of the forces of nature. The maintenance of 
that heterogeneity, that differentiation of members, is a 
condition of progress. The aim of social reform must 
be not to abolish class, but to provide that each indi- 
vidual shall so far as possible get into the right class and 
stay there, and usually his children after him. Men rise 
from below and fall from above, and the fact is sometimes 
appealed to as evidence that such vicissitudes are a 
normal and wholesome phenomenon. The naturalist 
sees that the convection currents to which such dis- 
placements are due must indicate special kinds of 
disturbance. These disturbances are mainly due to 
interbreeding between the social grades, and between 
sections of the population formerly isolated. Such rapid 
social diffusion must mean either that much original varia- 
tion is happening, or that extraordinary changes are affect- 
ing the conditions of life. There is no doubt that in the 
case of our own age both phenomena can be recognized, 
but the human variations in mental power are the primary 
factor, and they have created the disturbance in the condi- 
tions of life. Just as the numbers of the population tend 
always to reach an equilibrium in which births balance 
deaths, so do the differentiated elements of the population 
tend always to find their particular level, near which they 
would stop till the mass is again disturbed. 

The fact that families or individuals rose into promi- 
nence or dropped into obscurity when the great industrial 
development of this country began, does not prove that 
the strains from which they came ought previously and 
in differing circumstances to have been in different 
relative positions. In various circumstances various 
qualities are required for success. It would be useful 
to illustrate this by actual examples discussed from the 
biological standpoint, but it will be sufficient to say that 


as we have come to recognize that evolutionary change 
proceeds not by fluctuations in the characters of the 
mass, but by the predominance of sporadic and special 
strains possessing definite characteristics, so in a society 
may previously existing types find their opportunity in 
the supervention of new social conditions. 

When King David said, ' I have been young, and now 
am old : and yet saw I never the righteous forsaken, nor 
his seed begging their bread ', thus asserting the per- 
manence and heritability of success, he is thought by 
some to show himself singularly inobservant. But I 
doubt whether in the Middle Ages or in any other 
epoch when conditions were comparatively uniform 
over long periods of time, he would have been regarded 
as saying anything contrary to general experience. 

However that may be, he is declaring what ought to be 
true in an ideal State. We have abolished the Middle 
Age conception of the State as composed of classes per- 
manently graded, with the ladder of lords rising from 
the minuti homines below to the king on his throne, and 
yet to such stratification, after each successive disturb- 
ance, society tends to return. 

But those minuti homines, how are they to be con- 
tented, for is it not the duty and the desire of all to 
content them ? The first and greatest step towards such 
contentment is taken when the grades find their right 
places. At such a time as the present much of the 
intensity of discontent is due to the fact that some are 
at the bottom who should be higher, while some are 
high who should be lower. For time is of the essence 
of the proces s; and two generations have scarcely 
passed since the great changes began. Then, strange 
as it may seem, content is not so very rare after all. 
There is a discontent which is caused not because 


something is withheld from us, but because we know 
our own inferiority ; for that there is no cure. Decent 
food and lodging, however, go far to satisfy minuti 
homines in general. Very early most of us accept the 
truth of Schumann's aphorism, that if every one were 
determined to play first fiddle no orchestra could be got 

As a boy in Cambridge I learnt that if a man got a 
first class he might be happy ; if he got a second class 
he would be unhappy ; if he got a third class, nothing 
but misery and a colonial life awaited him. When we 
grow older we unlearn these simple propositions, and we 
find that happiness is in many cases compatible with 
weekly wages and even with a pass degree. Some will 
have more than others. As in the body the heart is 
arranged so that the best blood goes to the head, so 
must and ought it to be with society. 

Whatever is doubtful, this much I think is certain, 
that we are fast nearing one of those great secular 
changes through which history occasionally passes. 
The present social order is too unstable to last much 
longer, and he must be callous who greatly desires that 
it should. What will emerge from the approaching 
histolysis no one can predict. Let us hope, something 
better : and to this end may those upon whom devolves 
the duty of rearing that new organism, which is to 
grow from the dissolved tissues of society, be guided in 
their treatment, like physicians of the modern age, not 
by nostrum merely, but by the facts of natural physiology.